Monday, April 18, 2011

A Good Weekend for Ethnic Outbidding?

We live in nationalist times.  Some of this is clearly economic--that even in good economies, uncertainty feeds the beast of nationalism, but in bad times, nationalist demands may increase as blame is directed at other groups and as the economic costs of pursuing nationalist courses matter less.  That is, if the economy is tanking, then there will not be as much additional damage if a government chooses a nationalist course of action. In some places, the incumbents have simply been around too long.

Why am I pondering this?  Mostly because of a weekend meeting of the Parti Quebecois, but also a couple of other news stories:
  • Hungary's right of center party, Fidesz, gained enough seats in parliament to re-write its constitution.  And it is doing precisely that: "With references to God, Christianity, the Holy Crown of Hungary, fatherland, national pride and traditional families, the text has raised concerns in the Hungarian press and among observers, who see it as discriminatory."
  • France has banned the burqa even though there is hardly a threat of many women wearing it.  Just good old symbolic politics.
The PQ program itself is chock full of promises to divide Quebec and alienate minorities.  Before getting into the language stuff, I want to highlight how much further they want to go than France: obsessed with secularism, the PQ proposes to ban the wearing of any conspicuous symbols, going beyond burqas to include yamulkes, hijabs, etc. Building on an old Jacob Levy argument, perhaps this is clever politics to bring the secularists and the Catholics (since the symbols in play seem not to be Catholic ones) together.  To be clear, there is no threat to the secular winners of the Quiet Revolution.  There are not hordes of folks clammering for Shariah law to be imposed.

In the same vein of responding to non-threats, the PQ reaffirmed its commitment to take the rules for K-11: that French speakers and immigrants cannot go to English public schools and extend that to the CEGEP level (two years of publically funded education in between high school and university) despite the fact that this is very unpopular.  It is not clear that these two years will do a better job of creating Francophones (and separatists) than the previous 11 or 12.  It almost seems as if the PQ does not want the Quebec young folks from developing the skills to compete in today's international economy. 

The PQ also "voted to make French “the priority language” before all courts and tribunals in Quebec, including those under federal jurisdiction, and to beef up the province’s language police. In addition to adding language inspectors, a PQ government would mandate them to investigate whether anglophone hospitals and municipalities serve enough anglophones to continue operating in English." SourceI am not even sure that this can happen even if they rely on the notwithstanding clause (the compromise that allows any province [or the federal government] to engage in unconstitutional behavior by simply passing a majority vote).

The basic idea, of course, is to provoke as many battles as possible so that Canada says no and so that the Francophones become mobilized enough to support a referendum.  I guess this is possible, but since the PQ has made it clear that this is exactly their strategy, I don't think that either Canada or the folks in Quebec will over-react when the PQ over-reaches.

All I do know is that it will be disruptive and that the government will end up dumping heaps of $$ down a black hole in pursuit of a nightmare dream that will never happen.  But nationalists tend to be self-destructive. 

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